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Trip Report: Passport to Dry Creek Valley 2013

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My favorite wine festival of all time is the annual Passport to Dry Creek Valley, centered around Healdsburg. This was my fifth year in a row going, and with 50+ wineries available, I'm always puzzled why 'hounds don't talk about it more unless it's to keep it a hidden secret since tickets often sell out. To help others who may be going in the future, here's my take on this year's fest.

KOKOMO (3rd year): Since Kokomo, Papapietro Perry, Amphora, Peterson, and Family are all in the same complex, we've found that choosing a starting winery at one of those is ideal with large groups so that you can all start in the same area. Our group of 17 started Day 1 of Passport at Kokomo, which has friendly staff, strong whites/rose, and tasty comfort food (mini corn dog muffins, meatloaf).

PETERSON (3rd year): Since it's in the same complex, we stopped by for some simple and well-prepared Mexican food. Unfortunately their wine this and last time have not been memorable.

PAPAPIETRY PERRY (3rd year): The most popular of the wineries in the complex, Papapietro Perry always offers excellent pinots and zins. Although most wineries offer multiple bites for the food pairing, PPP usually offers just one rather homey snack, but it's always surprisingly delicious!

A. RAFANELLI (5th year): The only winery we've visited all five years is Rafanelli as it handily wins the "Most Copious Food" award each year with its bountiful Italian spread. The last two years their wine has been disappointing, but this year they came roaring back and also revamped their food offerings to a much more gourmet level with selections such as ahi tuna in seaweed cones instead of more traditional homestyle Italian selections. Unfortunately their portion sizes went down so several of us went back in line for seconds. Tip: avoid Rafanelli between 11.30am and 2pm as the line is super long then!

MAURISTON (3rd year): With Chef Charlie Palmer supplying the food, Mauriston often wins "Best Food" and this year did even better than usual with excellent diver scallop & maine lobster cakes (paired with a sauvignon blanc) which many in our group called the best bite of the weekend, beef short rib sliders (paired with a couple of zins) and a crunchy duck taco (paired with a pinot). The zins at Mauriston were the standouts, but unlike previous years when we could sample even more wines at the tasting room counter, they only allowed that for Wine Club members this year.

WEST (1st visit): We try to visit some new wineries each year (there are still about a dozen we haven't been to), and West was a newbie as it's been only their second year at Passport. The servers were quite spiffy in their white tuxes matching the Casablanca theme, and they served a comforting lamb tagine to pair with their Cabs.

STEPHEN & WALKER (2nd year): The copious Hog Island oysters and delicious pizzas at S&W are making a serious claim for must-visit status. They also offer one of the largest selection of Passport wines for tasting, with over 11 different types poured by very friendly staff.

ALDERBROOK (1st visit): We capped Day 1 with our first visit to Alderbrook which featured a Las Vegas theme and amazing $50/case deals (yes, per CASE, not bottle!) of some of their older (2001-2006) wines! While their vino wasn't amazing, for just over $4/bottle it was a crazy good deal and we walked away with several cases. With poker, karaoke, beanbag toss and a nice yard overlooking the winery, Alderbrook was the perfect chill end to a busy day!

FERRARI-CARANO (3rd visit): Without a doubt, FC wins the "Most Beautiful Winery" category with their amazing gardens, Italianate mansion, and beautiful cellar room. They have a huge selection of whites, but the happy surprise was their Baci, a sweet zin infused with dark chocolate which was just okay on its own but became a joy in the mouth when paired with the dark chocolate and cherry biscotti.

DUTCHER CROSSING (2nd visit): Decent wine & food in a pretty setting. The only winery we visited this trip to offer port. They also offered a couple of promising barrel tastings.

FRICK (4th visit): One of our must-visits is this small winery offering unique varietals like Cinsault, Carignane, and Viognier. Bill Frick, the winemaker, was also very present and happy to chat.

BELLA (3rd visit): One of our favorite wineries is Bella which as usual wins for "Best Theme", this year (and last) featuring fairy tales, complete with a princess and her frog, a hatter with his tea party, and an elegantly decorated cave with a harpist. We loved the Lily Hill zin, the entertainment and the chocolate petit-four served with their late harvest zin.

ZICHICHI (2nd year): Four delicious wines were offered for barrel tasting this year. Unfortunately we were pretty tipsy by this time and I can't remember anything else.

GOPFRICH (1st visit): With lots of seating, a smooth crooning singer, and a very chill atmosphere, Gopfrich was a wonderful spot for us to take a little break. Five wines were poured and paired with Cuban meatballs, pulled pork sliders, and a chocolate hazelnut trifle.

MICHEL-SCHLUMBERGER (2nd year): This year's theme was Spain, and this pretty winery's pork skewers were quite tasty. I enjoyed the cucumber & grape gazpacho to escape the hot summer day, but others weren't as impressed.

MAZZOCCO (3rd year): Mazzocco was the last stop of our weekend and featured Peru with the food of Chef Iskander from Radio Africa & Kitchen (a favorite restaurant of mine), llamas, and a Peruvian band and dancer. Mazzocco usually has a huge range of absolutely delicious zins, and we often buy one of their whites as well. This year we liked their Gewürztraminer (which we don't think we've seen before at Mazzocco) and had a tough time picking from all the great barrel tastings.

Photos from our weekend:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?s...

The one must-visit winery we skipped this year was Seghesio, partly due to our having so many newbies in our group that we did more revisiting than usual, and also due to their increasingly crowded atmosphere.

Overall we had a great time as usual and plan on going again next year!

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  1. Great report. Love the pictures - did you guys rent a small bus or limo?
    I have attended the Passport event for quite a few years. In the "old days" there were 20 wineries involved so you could visit all 20 (if you "road showed") in two days. Lately we have only been purchasing the Sunday Only passport. Did not go to Rafanelli or Mauritson this year because the lines were too long although they always put out a great spread. I always enjoy Peterson, not for the wines (dessert wine is quite good) but because I think Fred, Jan and Jamie are some of the nicest people in the Dry Creek Valley. One winery I would add to your list is Optima. Wines are good - have purchase their Reisling the past two years.
    They have you take a seat and serve you a choice of three items - this year I chose the lamb - two bbq lamb - on the bone - with a small salad - always great food - not crowded like Rafanelli. Unfortunately Optima will be moving and are planning on building a new winery (current location is in the warehouses near downtown Healdsburg) so they may not participate in Passport next year. Passport is one if the events I always look forward to - and now with it is no longer a lottery system for tickets you can make sure you get a passport by logging on to the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley website and purchasing passports on Feb. 1.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Bigshadetree

      We rent a van for the weekend at SFO and have a designated driver (and pay for his/her Passport ticket). This year due to the size of the group we had to rent two vans, but it worked out pretty well and is pretty economical.

      We went to Optima our very first year and were unimpressed, but if they're open next year we'll try them again. After 2pm the lines at Rafanelli & Mauriston are quite reasonable, at least on Saturday. Usually we try to hit up the central/southern wineries on Saturday when there are fewer people, and the more northern wineries on Sunday when the 1 day folks are in the central/southern areas.